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Finally! The Perks of Being a Wallflower is in Shreveport!

 

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Finally, finally, finally! The film adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower is in Shreveport. The Robinson Film Center has brought the film to town for at least another week.

A few things about this movie: yes, that is Hermione Granger. No, she is not a witch in this movie. She's not even British! So let's see how she does. Now, I don't know if you've read the book, but it's been pretty controversial. And who doesn't love a little controversy. If I say "sex, drugs, homosexuality" are you all of a sudden intrigued? Also, the book's author Stephen Chbosky directed the film! That's pretty cool, right? How often does that happen?

I'm personally hoping they'll have some themed food and drinks upstairs at Abby Singer's to go along with the film. See you there!

 

Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

hardtimesI read Hard Times for the first time when I was 15 because an English teacher I really respected recommended that I read it over the summer after my freshman year of high school. (She's also responsible for my love of Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood: she recommended White Noise and The Handmaid's Tale, too.) I'd almost totally forgotten what Hard Times is about. All I remembered was that a school with a mean teacher was involved. I think I wanted to reread it precisely because I didn't remember. And I love Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite novels. (I tried reading Great Expectations, though, and didn't even make it halfway.) In fact, that's the first book I read after I graduated college the first time with an English degree. I decided that even though I had a piece of paper that said I had, I hadn't read anything. So I picked up the nearest "respectable" book which happened to be A Tale of Two Cities. I don't think I expected to like it at all - and I certainly didn't expect to absolutely love it.
 

Who's a Whovian?

Whovian*: a fan of Doctor Who. An uberfan of Doctor Who? A fan of the Doctor? A fan of Doctor Who the show? A fan of all things, people, places, and times that may be related by almost any connection to the Doctor, who, quite possibly, has touched the things, people, places, and times? And, yes, it is possible to touch a time by existing in it...right?

Am I a Whovian? I have asked myself in the past. It’s almost like asking myself if I’m a Trekker, but not quite. In both cases, I’d have to say I am a fan and a rather avid watcher, yet I don’t own any related merchandise. Surprisingly, I don’t even own DVD copies of any shows in either franchise. I will say I get excited when I know a new season is coming out of Doctor Who, and in case you were wondering, I am indeed very excited to see the newest Star Trek movie, if it ever gets here.

 

What to do, what to do...

I love the Shreve Memorial Library, I truly do, but honestly I love this town even more. That is why I realize that our library system is only a tiny piece of a city that is steeped in local culture and arts. In the mood to watch a good independent movie? Done. Live music more your bag? Easy. Yearning to see something a little different and stray off the beaten path? Go get weird, we got that too. The arts are alive and well here in the 318 and all you have to do is to know where to look. For that, hopefully I may be able to be of some assistance. These are a few of my personal favorites.

 

Spaced!

Sitting on the couch, a man in his fifties laughs as a couple in their late twenties tries to find themselves. He watches a guy, a gal, and a dog live in an apartment together. Said guy and gal are pretending to be an actual loving couple, so that they can live in said apartment. Guy wants desperately to write and draw comics of the X-men and Batman variety, maybe with a few zombies thrown in, and gal wants nothing more than to find a nice bloke and maybe a good time along the way. Guy comes with a best friend who takes his time in Rough Ramblers very seriously; girl comes with a self-absorbed fashionista wannabe, and the apartment building comes with a boozy, lonely, demanding landlady and a slightly mixed up artist. The fifty-plus year old man is hooked by the first episode and decides he must see all 14 episodes of the show’s run.

 

Brave New World

Continuing my thread of “books I can’t believe I haven’t already read,” I just finished reading Aldous Huxley’s 1931 Brave New World. I was very surprised to find parallels between this book and the last one I read I, Claudius, but I did. Both novels are about distant alien civilizations. I, Claudius is about our past and the birth of Western Civilization, and Brave New World is about our future and the death of civilization. I, Claudius is about a republic becoming a monarchy, and Brave New World is about a world political and social system that enslaves the mind to the government’s will.

Brave New World is thought-provoking and a little scary to read.

Imagine a world without families, where all children are born and raised in facilities where they are taught to be part of a strict class system. Entertainment, consumerism, and pleasure are the main pursuit of all people. Everyone partakes in the daily use of a drug called soma, which relieves its users of all emotional distresses. The chemical highs experienced from the use of this drug are referred to as “holidays.”

Above all else, individualism is looked down upon. Everyone must be happy at all times, and the only way to be happy is to spend time seeking out entertainment in the company of friends.

This novel satirizes modern civilization from all angles. It makes me despise blind consumerism, the entertainment industry, and wastefulness. It’s definitely a “look at the world you live in. Is this really what you want?” kinda story. I enjoyed this book; I like it when an author uses science fiction or fantasy to make social commentary. Science Fiction is my favorite vehicle for this. It allows authors to amplify certain aspects of our civilization and imagine what life would be like if we took things to a distant extremity.

This would not be my fist pick for a beach read. However, this is defiantly a good high school senior or college freshman read.

For fans of The Hunger Games and other dystopian fiction, which has recently become all the rage, Brave New World is a must-read. It’s the granddaddy of them all.

Read this book with a friend. You will have a lot to say when you finish.

 

The Night Strangers

I’m off my “classics kick” for a spell (pun intended). I considered reading some H.P. Lovecraft, to give myself a fright, but I decided to go with something more contemporary. I settled on Chris Bohjalain’s The Night Strangers. This is not your traditional ghost story. Yes, there are ghosts, and, yes, there is a creepy old Victorian home, but this is much more.

Meet Chip. He is an airline pilot. His wife, Emily, is an attorney. They have two beautiful twin ten-year-old girls. They live happily in Pennsylvania. Chip is a good pilot; he loves flying, and he couldn’t imagine any other career.

Then the unthinkable happens, the thing that we all fear when we board an airplane. The plane crashes into Lake Champlain. The crash is horrific with most of the passengers dead and only a few survivors. Chip is among the survivors. The crash isn’t his fault, and he is legally found blameless, though the horror of the crash haunts him.

Bohjalain’s description of the crash is nail-bitingly suspenseful. He puts you first in the pilot’s chair and then switches you back into the cabin with the passengers. You know the flight is doomed, but you can’t help hoping that Chip will save the flight.

In a bid to start over, the family, almost on a whim, purchase a large century old Victorian home in a remote corner of New Hampshire. The old house has charm, and the nearby village is quaint. This is just the sort of place where Chip and his family can start fresh.

But then there is the basement. Large, dark, and with a dirt floor, there is something about this space that attracts Chip. It pulls at him. He finds a door, sealed shut with bolts. Why bolt a door shut? What could be behind that door?

The longer the family lives in their new home, the more uncomfortable the family seems to become with their accommodations. The house is large and filled with dark corners. There is no cell phone service, and they experience frequent blackouts. It doesn’t help that they are nearly a mile away from their closest neighbor. But maybe you’re thinking that the quaint village will redeem the poor choice in real estate.

Yes, a lovely town with such nice people, especially the women. They like the new family. They take an interest in the young twin girls. Maybe the new friends are a little odd with all their obsessive gardening. Maybe they are a little off-putting with their constant attention. Maybe some of the family members get the feeling that there is something else going on here. Secrets, perhaps? What do these new overly friendly people want, really? Why are they so interested in tinctures and salves and herbal remedies? Some people in town call them herbalists. Others, more quietly, call them witches.

Bohjalain takes you to this remote New England community and creates a strong sense of place. For readers who have never been that far north, this book really captures some of the great gothic elements which were pioneered by early New England writers of ghost stories. Think, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Scarlet Letter.

Caution: This novel is not to be read late at night in an empty house.

Enjoy.

 

Book Review: Light in August

LightInAugustLight in August is, hands down, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s really an amazing novel. Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his best-known novels like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! Like the other books I’ve read, Light in August is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, but it doesn’t deal with the declining families there. I didn’t recognize any family names common to Faulkner novels (in fact, I didn’t know it was set in Yoknapatawpha County until I looked it up on Wikipedia).

A few things are going on in this novel: First, Lena Grove is very pregnant and travels from Alabama to Jefferson looking for the runaway father of her child, Lucas Burch. Second, a man named Christmas, who is unsure of his race, arrives in Jefferson. He meets a man who calls himself Joe Brown, and they live together in a cabin outside the house of Joanna Burden, a well-respected woman from an abolitionist family. Christmas starts a sexual relationship with Burden culminating in a house fire and a charge of murder. Third, we hear the story of Reverend Gail Hightower an outsider in the community who gets involved with the other plot lines. And that’s as much of a summary as I’m offering.

I’m not sure why Light in August wasn’t on my radar earlier. It’s pretty well-known, but it’s also long for a Faulkner novel at somewhere near 500 pages. Which explains why I wasn’t assigned it in college. It’s also more focused on race than I remember his other novels being. In any case, Light in August is so worth your time. I was hooked from the very beginning and in awe of Faulkner’s writing powers. It’s now my favorite of his novels.

Check it out!
 

One Kind Favor by B.B. King

Artist: B.B. King

Title: One Kind Favor

Geffen, 2008

In the summer of ‘94, I was 14 years old when my dad dropped me and a friend off at Hirsch Coliseum on a Friday evening for the Summer Blues Jam headlined by B.B. King.   Numerous bands/musicians played on that day, and it was smokin’ good! By the time B.B. took the stage it was well past curfew. He literally played four songs in about 15 minutes and that was it. I still remember how upset most of the crowd was that B.B. wasn’t able to play a longer set. You can’t put a curfew on the blues!

I have always been a fan of B.B. King, but I honestly prefer my blues a little more raw. King’s more recent releases have been too slick or over-produced to keep my attention for long. Then he released 2008’s One Kind Favor and it completely blew me away. Produced by T Bone Burnett, One Kind Favor features the 82-year-old blues icon playing classic songs from such artists as Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Big Bill Broonzy, and the Mississippi Sheiks. Backed by Jim Keltner (Lennon, Dylan) on drums, Nathan East (Clapton) on stand-up bass and Dr. John on piano, King manages to sound both modern and vintage at the same time. He’s relaxed and in charge throughout the recording.

If you are a fan of the blues, you have got to hear this music. One thing I always do with an album like this is explore the original recordings of the songs being covered. After all, if the music is important to B.B. it must be worth knowing more about. The library is the perfect place for this type of musical exploration. Visit your local library or search Shreve Memorial’s online catalog to discover music by many classic blues artists. One Kind Favor is available at the Broadmoor, Hamilton/South Caddo, Main, Mooretown, North Shreve, and Wallette locations of Shreve Memorial Library.

 

Release Me by Lyle Lovett

Artist: Lyle Lovett

Title: Release Me

Curb Records, February 2012

I could write for hours about the numerous services available from Shreve Memorial Library. For me personally, one of the most fun and often overlooked aspects of the library is the opportunity it gives for exploring and discovering music that I probably would not have become familiar with otherwise. The music of Lyle Lovett is a perfect example of this. Shreve Memorial Library has numerous titles by Lovett that I’ve enjoyed listening to. When his latest disc, Release Me, hit library shelves, I knew I had to check it out.

Release Me is a rollicking tour of Americana music. Fiddle, mandolin, piano, numerous guitar flavorings, a superb horn section, and perfect vocal harmonies transition between country, rock, bluegrass, jazz, and blues with ease. The slickly produced album only contains two originals written by Lovett. The majority of the album consists of covers of songs by artists like Jesse Winchester, Chuck Berry, and Townes Van Zandt. The music on Release Me changes genre and mood from song to song, but somehow it works without seeming disjointed at all. Fittingly, the album closes with a beautiful hymn of unification – “Keep Us Steadfast”, written by Martin Luther in 1542.

A few years ago, I knew who Lyle Lovett was. He was married to Julia Roberts, right? Unfortunately, I had never paid much attention to him beyond that. Luckily, the library was there to introduce me to his amazing music.

If you enjoy the musical styles that I’ve mentioned in this review, Release Me is the perfect album for becoming acquainted with the music of Lyle Lovett. The library has numerous other titles by Lovett that you can check out also – Pontiac (1987), Lyle Lovett and His Large Band (1989), Live in Texas (1999), My Baby Don’t Tolerate (2003), and Smile: Songs From the Movies (2003).

 

Fruits and Veggies

My daughter loves fruit and vegetables to the extreme. She begs me for extra servings of things like avocado, broccoli, and peas almost every day. She has always had very mature taste buds. Even when I tempt her with glazed donuts for breakfast my child turns her nose up to them in favor of steak and eggs. I ask her if she wants a cookie and she replies, "Nope! I want bwo-co-lee and mango!" This is a great thing and I consider myself very lucky not to have the nightly dinner struggle that some parents of picky eaters endure. I can even use vegetables as collateral, like some parents use lollipops or jelly beans. The words, "get out of the bathtub right now or I'm giving your sister all the broccoli!" not only works like a charm, but also are packed with vitamins.

To celebrate her love of fruits and veggies we have been checking out library materials that follow that theme, but if your child is not as gung-ho for the tomato try out these books and video and see if they'll give peas a chance.

Fruits and Veggie Themed Library Material

 

Movie Review: Melancholia

melancholiaOooooh, you have to see this movie. It's the most beautiful movie I've seen in a long time. The cinematography is amaaaazing. Melancholia had me entranced from the beginning.

Two major things are happening here: Justine's (Kirsten Dunst) marriage is falling apart, and she has a difficult relationship with her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). AND there's a newly discovered planet that's been hiding behind the moon, and it's hurtling toward the earth, about to end life as we know it. The film is in two parts: The first shows Justine's wedding and her breakdown during the reception. There's little mention of the planet. The second part focuses on Justine's relationship with Claire and the former's mental recovery. And the Impending Doom.

That summary does not do justice to this movie. Remember, I'm a book person (and I checked: sadly, Melancholia isn't based on a book). It's a visual experience (speaking of visual, I'll warn you that there's some tasteful nudity). While the acting is superb, the cinematography outshines it. And the end! I was sobbing at the end! Really, it's soooo good.

Check it out!

 

The Playway - A Parental Lifesaver

School is back in session and summer road trips are behind us, but just when the flashbacks of bored toddlers and smug tweens screaming “are we there yet?!” from the backseat have started to fade, lurking just around the corner are a whole new set of family road trips. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter. Spring Break. Parents, I’m talking to you! For those of you that can’t possibly bear listening to anymore kiddie CD’s, like the soundtrack to Season One of Jack’s Big Music Show or Best of the Laurie Berkner Band, have I got a lifesaver for you! Don’t get me wrong, those are some great children’s music CD’s, and some of the least annoying ones I have come across. I really do enjoy listening to them both, but not for 8 hours straight on the way to Auntie's house. For those of you who want something just a little different, let me introduce you to a precious little product called The Playaway.

 

Playaway View and Playaway Audio

There are two versions, Playaway View and Playaway audio.* Today I’ll be talking about the View, but be on the look-out for my review of the Playaway Audio in the near future. The Playaway View is a pre-loaded video player that is small enough for the tiniest hands and durable enough for the clumsiest toddler….scratch resistant screens!

These products are exclusively available for check-out to library patrons so you won’t see them anywhere else. These little gems are amazing! My two-year-old daughter took an instant liking to them the first time I put one into her tiny hands, and so did I. They are like instant silencing machines, mesmerizing even the grumpiest of grumps.

My daughter, patiently awaiting a flu shot.

 

Movie Review: Wonder Boys

wonderboysAs I'm sure you know, I'm a book reviewer. I don't think I've ever written a movie review before, so bear with me here. I'll make an effort with my very favorite movie, Wonder Boys. Sure, it's not new. I'm not a big movie person (I rarely watch them because I don't have the patience. "Then how do you have patience for books?" you ask. I know it doesn't make sense.), so I haven't seen most of the new stuff. I should also include a warning: Wonder Boys is rated R for language and a bit of drug use. There's no nudity, or anything (okay, there's a naked guy on screen for a couple seconds, but the private bits are totally covered), but don't show it to the kids - not that they'd like it, anyway.

It's about a college professor and author, Grady Tripp, played perfectly by Michael Douglas, who has a difficult weekend. His first book was a hit, but he's been working on his second for years. There's an event called Wordfest going on, and authors and editors from around the country are in attendance. Including his editor, Crabtree, played by Robert Downey, Jr. That morning, Grady's wife left him. He goes to a party at the chancellor's house (the chancellor is Frances McDormand), and we discover that she and Grady are having an affair. And that she's pregnant with his child. Grady goes outside for some fresh air and discovers his melancholy but genius student, James Leer (Tobey Maguire) standing in the trees with a gun to his head. Grady takes the gun and has a chat with James, then takes him inside to the party. Then Things Happen.

Wonder Boys is my very favorite movie. It came out in 2000, and I've watched it dozens of times since then. Parts of it are absolutely hilarious, and the actors are perfect for their roles. Better yet, it's based on a book by the same name written by Michael Chabon. (Of course I had to talk about a book!) What's funny is that I just tried to read it, and I couldn't get through it because I'd seen the movie too many times, and though the events are basically the same, the characters aren't quite, and it drove me nuts. So I put down the book, and I don't know if I'll pick it up again. That in no way means it's a bad book - my friends who've read it really like it, and I'm sure that if I'd read it before seeing the movie, I'd have loved it, too.

After seeing this movie, Michael Douglas often narrates books in my head. If I'm home and bored, Wonder Boys is my go-to movie. If you're worried about the R rating, I'd check out a summary or a review elsewhere because it also deals with some controversial topics I didn't address here. But if you're looking for a funny, very intelligent movie to watch when the kids aren't around, give this one a try.

Check it out!

 

Review: The Waste Lands by Stephen King

The_waste_landsThis novel makes me want to write a nastygram to Stephen King. That doesn’t mean it’s bad: in fact, I really enjoyed it, and it’s definitely my favorite Dark Tower book so far. But the ending!

Think of the most cliffhangery cliffhanger ever, and you have the end of The Waste Lands. It might as well have stopped mid-sentence. It’s such a cliffhanger that Stephen King added an author’s note at the end apologizing for the ridiculous cut-off. If an author has to include an apology at the end of his novel, something is wrong.

That said, I loved this book. The Gunslinger was great and The Drawing of the Three was okay, though I think it was too much of a departure for the first. The Waste Lands was amazing – and still not what you’d expect to happen after either of the first two novels. The Dark Tower series is nothing like what I’d expected.

I don’t really want to include a summary here because it might spoil the first two if you haven’t read them, and they’re totally worth a read, so I’ll direct you to Goodreads if you’re so inclined. The Dark Tower isn’t like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: you need to read these in order.

And so I’ll leave you with no real information about this novel except that I really liked it, and you should read it – after you’ve read the other two. The stupid ending almost roped me into moving directly into the next book in the series, but I decided to hold off and save some for later. All things in moderation!
 

Review: The Names by Don DeLillo

thenames_first_edI finished reading The Names a few days ago, but I’m so unenthusiastic about it that I’ve been putting off writing this post. In a fit of, I don’t know, insanity, I decided it would be a good time to try another DeLillo novel. I think I read something about this one in an article I was reading for my thesis. It involves a cult, and it’s mostly set in Greece. Sounded like a non-formula DeLillo novel to me. I was intrigued.

But, of course, it is a formula DeLillo novel. It’s just that they guy who’s running away isn’t the protagonist. You might argue that Bill Gray isn’t really the protagonist of Mao II, but that novel isn’t narrated in the first person by an entirely different character. DeLillo went all Nick Carraway on me.

So what, you ask, is this guy running away from? Language. The Names is all about language. And it’s not subtle at all just like TV isn’t in Americana, music isn’t in Great Jones Street, and literature/the publishing industry isn’t in Mao II. Once again, DeLillo beats you over the head with it.

I got so annoyed with this book that I skimmed most of the last third of the novel. I just wanted to find out what was going on with the cult. I didn’t care about the talking heads part. And that’s most of it.

Here’s enough of the plot. There’s a cult moving around eastern Europe that murders people based on similarities between their names and their locations. There’s no real explanation for it – they just do it. And the main characters talk about it.

The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it. I’m tired of DeLillo’s formula, and The Names certainly isn’t one of his best novels, anyway. This is the second one I’ve disliked from the beginning: the other was The Body Artist. I’ve been planning on giving that one a second chance because I didn’t see how it could be that bad (especially since I like Great Jones Street, widely considered to be his worst novel.

That’s all I have to say about The Names. I was disappointed. I’ll get back on the thesis soon, and I’m hoping that being so annoyed won’t make me lose interest again.
 


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